President Reagan's long-awaited decision on the MX missile followed by a day the announcement of record grain sales to the Soviet Union, and nobody seemed to notice the inconsistency.
Reagan was, to be sure, true to his stated views. During the campaign, he promised to go forward with Carter's missile, although not his mode. During the campaign, he also took exception to Jimmy Carter's embargo on wheat sales, on the grounds that American farmers should be not "punished " for Soviet transgressions in Afghanistan.
Separately, on his terms, the moves are reasonable. They just don't go together.
The "resolution" of the missile problem--it was really an admission that there isn't one--has been variously called "courageous" and "voodoo defense." It may be illogical, in the strategic sense, to immobilize a "mobile" missile, but politically, Reagan's actions constitute a "surgical strike."
By choosing a parking space over a subway system, Reagan not only saved the West for the Republican Party and preserved his friendship with Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, but also enchanted the environmentalists and the Mormon Church. And he made himself enemies from far left and far right--Ron Dellums to John Tower-- who are invaluable in identifying him as a moderate in the eyes of the general public.
The uproar over the basing mode of the MX and the construction of the B1 bomber, its companion weapon, has all but drowned out the voices of people who feel that procurement of the MX is a disaster in itself--a disaster because, in the words of arms control expert Herbert Scoville Jr., "It is a weapon system that can be both a means to launch an atomic strike and a magnet to attract an atomic strike against it--and us."
What is emphasized is the cost of our decision to the Soviets, not the cost to ourselves, which is, of course $180 billion.
Sen. Tower, who is furious that the MX has lost its underground mobility, appeared on "Meet the Press" and gave this curious, one-sided rebuttal to the argument that if we dig more silos, the Soviets will simply build more missiles:
"That assumes the Soviets have unlimited technological, industrial and economic resources to do this with. And the fact they have to give something up is the thing that's going to bring them to the bargaining table most quickly."
But by devoting $180 billion to construction of the silos and the B1, we give up something, too--milk for our schoolchildren, loans for college students, security for our old folks.
If we really want to bring the Russians to their knees--or to the bargaining table --would it not be far cheaper to starve them than to nuke them?
They have a "window of vulnerability" the size of Red Square. It is their agriculture. They cannot feed their own people. Their wheat harvest has failed for the third straight year.
Ronald Reagan's own rhetoric can be used to justify the strategy of the empty stomach. Here is how he characterized the Russians at his first press conference.
"The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat in order to attain that . . . ."
But they are worse than that. In the MX decision is implicit a charge of their ultimate criminality, their willingness to start a nuclear war.
Ronald Reagan was explicit about it, too. When asked his views about the winnability of a nuclear war at his press conference, he said:
"It's very difficult for me to think that there is a winnable nuclear war but where our great risk falls is that the Soviet Union has made it very plain that among themselves that they believe it is winnable."
It would seem that to deprive these maniacs of food would be an ethical imperative. When asked why we plan to supply them with 23 million tons of wheat to sustain them in their malevolent planning, Reagan officials mumble that they would simply go elsewhere if we denied them, and when asked if the Pentagon planners have considered the food weapon, they speak of "countervailing forces," by which they mean the farm states that are such an important element in the Reagan constituency.
We disapprove of a similar healthy display of commercial self-interest on the part of our NATO allies, who are planning to build a $10 billion pipeline to bring Siberian gas to the energy-starved capitals of Europe. We frown on the resulting East-West "interdependence." At the Ottawa summit, Reagan expressed his "concern" about the venture. French President Francois Mitterrand pointed out a little sardonically that Reagan was asking for cold war sacrifices from western Europe at the same time he was authorizing huge sales of grain to the Soviet Union.
But nobody here is talking about the irony. They are talking about basing modes instead of basics. Why does the arms race go on? Why, if we can negotiate a wheat deal, can't we negotiate a reduction in nuclear weapons? If we don't, we could end up in a world where there will be nobody to grow the wheat and nobody to eat the bread.